It’s YOU D
By Marc Katz
The year Archie Miller was hired to coach the University of Dayton men’s basketball team, Butler and VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) made it to the Final Four.
That was 2011.
Last season, Villanova won the whole thing.
That’s Kentucky and Duke and Indiana and North Carolina and Kansas territory.
Dayton is in this game—in it with the big, tub-thumping football schools and in it with the little private and faith-based schools set up around the corner.
Miller can look back at the records and see what Tom Blackburn and Don Donoher mostly did. He’s trying to advance his team even more, and has a good start: six straight winning seasons and three straight NCAA appearances, about to become four.
He has taken the Flyers to the Sweet Sixteen as competition increases in the chase for victory and NCAA dollars, and Louisville players chasing…well, we’re not in Louisville.
He took his team to Alabama last week and didn’t have to play the football team, but a rising shoreline did not lift all boats. Roll Tide rolled over.
How does Miller do it?
His answer, essentially: “You.”
No, not me. YOU.
I know, without Miller recruiting and coaching, none of this happens. Bad teams play in front of lots of fans and end up with hearing aids. Good teams play in front of nobody and keep cashing NCAA checks.
I know this, but I want to know what Miller thinks helps him recruit and win. Is it a line of Teslas to pick up team members for practice? Is it French chefs at the training table? Is it Trump-like private jets to every away game?
“A lot of kids value different aspects of the process,” Miller said. “If you ask me what is the most unique, number one thing we have at our disposal in recruiting, I would tell you it’s our fan base.”
Let me break in for a moment and tell you a story.
I had only been in Dayton a few months when a friend invited me to a University of Dayton basketball game in 1970, UD Arena’s second season. We were in the 400 section, and luckily I haven’t had to sit there many times since, but I got an eyeful.
Dayton hosted Portland, just another game on a schedule loaded with Notre Dame, Cincinnati, DePaul, and others.
Plows moved snow everywhere, and the temperature dropped to 8 degrees. It was December 26, and I’m told some people overate the day before or were vacationing in Florida. In other words, I wasn’t expecting a crowd.
I thought my friend and I would quickly move down to other, unoccupied seats closer to the action, but 12,197 fans showed up for UD’s eventual 88-72 victory.
It has been that way ever since, even in the throes of UD’s 4-26 flop in 1982-83.
I know the argument. There’s nothing else to do here in the winter.
Like, there’s nothing else to do on a recent Friday night when the Flyers sold out an exhibition game with Findlay?
Not every game is a sellout, because, really, those 400 level seats in the corners aren’t so hot. But UD basketball is.
Miller knows it and touts it and bows down to those fans and the community in complete gratification.
He says his players pass the word to recruits.
“In my opinion, the fan base is so unique, so unmatched, so passionate, the experience our players have, the vision a player coming here has, he’s going to a place that has incredible support,” Miller said. “From the school perspective. I think the quality of life that the University of Dayton provides—not just for a student athlete or basketball player, but a student in general—is a great experience.”
“The faculty does a great job of caring about the students,” he adds.
Miller grew up in the Pittsburgh area, played college basketball at North Carolina State, and was an assistant coach at such places as Arizona and Ohio State.
He has seen some crowds, but even he can be surprised, like when the Flyers were awarded a First Four berth at UD Arena last season against Boise State, playing on their home court, but not necessarily in front of their usual fans.
“It wasn’t our home crowd,” Miller said in awe. Yet, “It was the greatest crowd experience I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve never seen an arena that never sat down. We had seven players that year. The crowd willed them to victory.”
It’s not just at home games.
“I had no [idea],” Miller said. “Walking into the arena on game day is a special feeling. During the national anthem or jump ball, you look around and say there are very few places that can do this night in and night out.”
Then, there are really away games, like at early-season tournaments in Hawaii and Florida.
Other coaches, Miller says, congratulate him for his crowds, not just his team.
“I think they’re very different,” Miller said of UD’s fans. “These fans love UD, they love the players coming here. They support them during good and bad. They don’t forget them in the off-season, then remember when basketball season rolls around. It is constantly about them. That is intimate, unique.”